NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





This latest roundup of the imaginative, exploratory, venerable and refined musical discoveries includes a second collection of film and field recordings from the late legend ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya; the third peregrination from Glitterbeat Records’ new imprint tak:tile, Širom’s Slovenian soundscape odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper; a rebooted soul-in-the-machine electronica collection from Nosaj Thing; and the latest ambient soundtrack from Odd Nosdam.

But first of all we have a reenergized Afrobeat collaboration between the genre’s doyen rhythm guru, Tony Allen, and the eclectic, protest driven, Chicago Afrobeat Project, called What Goes Up.

Read on…

Chicago Afrobeat Project Feat. Tony Allen   ‘What Goes Up’
September 15th,  2017


Starting life as a shifting collective of musicians jamming in a artist’s loft, channeling the fervor of Afrobeat’s progenitor Fela Kuti, the Chicago Afrobeat Project initially covered the Nigerian icon’s back catalogue before developing their own variant style. Transducing the sound of downtown Lagos and the Afro-Spot nightclub via the rich musical heritage of their own native metropolis, the group, now settling with a regular lineup, open the studio doors to embrace the city’s famous blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, house and hip-hop culture.

Expanding on and playing with the Afrobeat foundations but staying true to the roots of the African fusion that first merged the popular Ghanaian Highlife hybrid with funk and soul, the project members invite a number of vocalists and rappers from the area to enthuse, lead and prompt the music towards the political; reinforcing the main message and activism behind much of Kuti’s own, often dangerous, protestations and rebellious denouncements.

As if it wasn’t already enough, the Afrobeat ante is upped with the appearance of Kuti’s wingman and rhythm guru, Tony Allen. Showing those youngsters a thing or two, Allen brings certain levity, a craft and connection to the source, to this ten-track album. Flown in especially from his home in Paris, Allen, who’s also recently recorded a tribute album to Art Blakey (which he says fits in well with the Chicago Afrobeat Projects What Goes Up), doesn’t just turn up to add a roll and drum flair here and there, he plays on all the tracks, laying down the foundations, leading the way and rattles off his trademark polyrhythm shuffles, jazz timed syncopations and, most important of all, infectious grooves: the fight against injustice has never rarely so funky.

The elder statesman of Afrobeat, sounding almost effortless with his limbering and relaxed drumming, brings a sagacious quality to What Goes Up, though his comrades bring the bright and heralding horns, laser zappy synths, church organ and sunny Hammond sustained rays to the get-down.

Guests, of which there are many, on this sweltering and sauntering conscious album include a new jack swinging, bordering on gospel house style hook, protesting JC Brooks (Race Hustle and Sunday Song); an Igbo lullaby and Afro-futurist meets atavistic soul of Western Africa Oranmiyan (Cut The Infection, Must Come Down and Afro Party); the soulfully sassy, tumbling R&B songstress Kiara Lanier (No Bad News); and a metaphorical conversationalist style Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle (as sparring partner) of Sidewalk Chalk (Marker 48).

As Rico Sisney puts it on the skit for environmental justice, Marker 48: “Something’s gotta change!” And over the course of the album the collective tackle every kind of current injustice filling up the newsfeed: from the alarming murder rate in the inner cities, including Chicago’s own widely publicized tragic rates and by extension the Black Lives Matter campaign; racial profiling and harassment; tensions between communities; and of course, Trump.

Speaking Kuti fluently, channeling the Afrobeat totems and the most hustling, hot footing rhythms, the Chicago collective offer a unique take on the genre under the watchful eye of Tony Allen. Bridging two generations, adding some fresh licks and eclectic sounds from their own backyard, they do more than most in reenergizing the Afrobeat blueprint.




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

An urgent rewire; a forced reboot; the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based electronic producer/composer/performer Jason Chung, under his Nosaj Thing alter ego, focused the mind like no other project before. As a warning to us all that backing up your hard drive is not only vital and reassuring but also a security precaution, Chung lost three years worth of demos, sketches and compositions, many of which were destined for this LP, in a robbery whilst out on tour with Warp Record’s signing Clark.

Losing all his equipment and a number of precise hard drives, all of which were never backed-up or saved anywhere else, meant that Chung would have to start from scratch, and as it has proven, reexamine not only his methods of storage and quality control but also his process of creativity.

Parallels is in fact billed as some kind of “epiphany” for Chung; a journey into “uncharted territories” for an artist renowned for his collaborative fusions with Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Changing direction and playing to it to his advantage, Chung uses this as an opportunity to explore deeper expanses. Far from wild and edgy however, Parallels is a quite vaporous but controlled soulful listening experience. Counterpointing various succinct philosophical questions (‘Dystopia or Paradise’, “Love or Regret?’) and themes (‘Emotions vs. Technology’, ‘Soul vs. Machines’) Chung’s electronic suffusions linger in a woozy sometimes haunting fashion between his many juxtapositions, yet always remains connected with a touch of humanity: from the resonating visages of a taped conversation with a security guard watching over the Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibition, to the trio of varying degrees of ethereal and soulful vocal contributions from guests Kazu Makino, Steven Spacek and Zuri Marley.

Emerging from the ether, Chung opens the album with a veiled drone rumble, piano arpeggiator and ring of articulate beats before hooking up with London producer/singer Spacek on the haunted broody lament, set to a Polygon Windows meets minimalist R&B pop, All Point Back To You. A precursor, a taster, of what you can expect to hear on the future Makino/Chung collaborative EP (released we’re told at some point later on in 2017), the breathlessly whispered cooed and chilled suffrage How We Do, adds a ticking drum beat and Japan style ice-y synth to the gauzy shoegazing Blonde Redhead signature. Nocturnal dreamy downtempo house, ambient meditations and finely-tuned kinetic soul-in-the-machine meanders follow, before reaching Marley’s rich soaring to lilting contour hovering past love affair ruminations on Way We Were.

Finely chilled, articulated electronica, amorphously floating between escapism and dystopia, Parallels never quite settles on either. And despite a number of equations that pitch technology and the machine against humans, Chung’s music has a real soul and yearning.






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

Few have changed the direction of hip-hop and modern ambient soundscapes like David P. Madson, the co-founder of both one of rap music’s most experimental outfits, cLOUDDEAD, and the seminal Anticon label. Forging a post millennium course with a number of collaborators, including Dose One, Yoni Wolf and Jel, Madson deconstructed, eviscerated and then rebuilt a more avant-garde, strung-out and expansive vision for hip-hop.

Under the Odd Nosdam title, inspired by the minimalist composers, and on this latest soundscape immersion, the degrading in quality traces and language of sound/video artist and composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops IV, he delves ever deeper into the ambient sphere.

Informed by a prolonged spell of “nonstop rain” in his native Bay Area home, the LIF album transduces the West Coast of America’s winds and rains weather patterns into an analogue controlled, filtered and manipulated field of ebbing and flowing pulsing electricity. The capital three lettered titles (codes? Abbreviations?) fade in and out; like passing through a cloudy overcast or static resonating wave, which eventually dies out. Subtly alluded to, drizzling downpours are simulated, falling on glass, on the slight Japanese sounding RAI, and detuned TV set feedback accentuated moiety KEI I and KEI II. Whilst far gentler droplets fall like notes on the enervated rasping vignette AIN.

Prompts and themes of loneliness – and when listening to the varied ambient passages, you’ll find plenty of space to ruminate in isolation -, love and fear are key to unlocking, or at least perhaps deciphering, these ten mood compositions: articulated at times through subtle plucked out notation, bellowed harmonium, dreamy ascents above the clouds and floating lingers of melody. Refining emotion from a pylon hum, showers of rain or generators, Madson’s minimalist soundscapes traverse the Kosmische and ambient genres with a contemporary feel and movement.






Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Musical Explorers: Krishna In Spring’
ARC Music,  25th August 2017

 

In praise of the field recordists, leading world music label ARC continues to champion the music and film recordings of the late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in its latest series venture, Musical Explorers.

The project was launched back in June with Bhattacharya’s 1950s and late 1960s spanning Colours Of Raga, which included an introduction and illuminating set of notes from Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the “rough guides” to world music, Simon Broughton, who once again offers context and insight on this, the second volume in the series.

A self-taught producer, recording not only the sounds of his native India but also the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Bhattacharya travelled extensively cataloguing rare performances, bringing his exotic wonders to a his adopted British home and audience via various BBC commissioned documentaries and radio programs.

As the title suggests, Krishna In Spring is a paean of instrumentals, dances and venerable verses dedicated to, perhaps, the most venerated and famous deities in Hindu mythology. Demon vanquisher, protector of the common people, the mischievous incandescent blue portrayed god represents the “spirit for life” and for his tumultuous love affair with Radha. Said to have the common touch; never happier than when cavorting and leaping and springing about with milkmaids in his role as humble cow herder, Krishna is often depicted flute in hand, amongst the earnest folk. Almost every love song in the Hindu songbook is in his honour or at least references him. The diaphanous articulated Indian bamboo flute, the Bansuri, is even used as a colloquial signature and evocation of his presence.

Taking the full extended performances, seen and heard briefly on the soundtrack, from the title’s twenty-five minute documentary come public information film (first aired in 1969), Bhattacharya captures a panoply vision of the famous Holi Festival: the “festival of colours” that ushers in the Spring, dedicated to the deeds and spirit of Krishna, or as Bhattacharya himself puts it, “…to surrender oneself to the spirit of life. That is the message of Krishna in Spring.”

Humongous sized drums; bicycle-pump tie-dye abandonment; women browbeating their menfolk with broom handles, enacting Radha’s stormy love affair with Krishna; silky clothed flag carriers and joyful communion, the Holi Festival footage, even in its scratchy washed-out by time and quaintly narrated form, encapsulates a vivid, chaotic worship. It is a festival steeped in tradition and seems out of time with modernity, but as we are told in the album’s accompanying notes, continues to be practiced in the exact same way today.

Glimpses, as I said, of the evocative drones, syllabic ‘bols’ speak and poet exultations are played-out in their entirety on this collection’s eight sweet and beautiful audio recordings. Half of which feature the backing of R.K. Bharati laying down elegant melodies and drones on the short-necked Indian fiddle, the ‘sarangi’, Hidayat Khan taping out various coda and frenzied sophisticated patterns on the tabla, and Chiranjilal planting atmospheric brassy drones foundations.

Touched with the afflatus, there are fine examples of dusky hour pentatonic scale flightiness and serenaded flute pulchritude to Krishna throughout, including Suraj Narayan Purohit and Indermall Mathur’s Raga Bhupali, the adulating voiced incantation to the many names and trials of the beloved deity Devotional Song Of The Ballabh Sect In Praise Of Krishna performed by Amarlal, and the lengthy lyrical prose turn conversational drama, based on the late 14th century poet Chandidas’ original and the subsequent additional litany of poet contributions throughout the ages, Mathur, performed by singers from the Mitra-Thakur family.

Every bit as revelatory, especially to those unfamiliar with India’s multifaceted belief systems and extraordinary musical heritage, as the first of Bhattacharya’s collections in the Musical Explorers series, Krishna In Spring does however offer an even deeper and varied window on classical Indian music: A celebration of sounds that traverse Rajasthan, West Bengal but above all the holy.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’
tak:til,  8th September 2017

 

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances (launched earlier this year with 75 Dollar Bill’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s Simultonality albums) and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Though part of a litany of Empires, including the Habsburgs, Italian and either through their own forced amorphous cultural, ancestral ties with neighboring regions and peoples, became part of the Croat-Slovenian and Yugoslavian annexations at one time, Slovenia has despite its size and battle for independence, maintained a distinct identity. In less glowing terms but pretty accurate, the writer Simon Winder in his Habsburg travel saga Danubia, described what we know as the modern Slovenia as being, “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian county of Vas.”

One of the central themes of I Can Be A Clay Snapper, and amongst the country’s most richly abundant resources, is water; the leitmotif of which appears throughout the album’s five odysseys, evoking mountain streams, lazy lowland meandering rivers and the mysterious vanishing water of Karst through a sonic transcription.

Revisiting a number of locations held dear, including some that proved very difficult to reach, Samo Kutin, Iztok Koren and Ana Kravanja travelled to locations as diverse as the bright yellow turnip rape fields of Prekmurje to the snowy mountain top of Kal above the village of Čadry to channel their inspirations and compose from improvisations this, often, meditative peaceable experience. As if the music didn’t quite signal the intentions and psychogeography well enough already, the trio have also made a film, Memoryscapes, to document this landscape surveying experiment: each, the album and the film, influencing and informing the other.





Though all three of Širom have different varied experiences to share, with both Kutin and Kravanja citing punk rock as a starting point, both playing apart in various bands in the Slovenian capital before eventually crossing paths at an improvisational music workshop and forming the kalimba-based Najoua duo, and Koren meanwhile, feeling a peculiar shame at listening to music during his childhood, but making it up for it ever since, serving in a succession of metal and post-rock bands, they manage to accommodate each other’s particular strengths, personalities and depth. Which can’t be easy especially when you glance at the scope of instrumentation used; each band member a deft practitioner of instruments as cosmopolitan and eclectic as the balafon, banjo, mizmar, lyre, ribab and as humdrum – but when put to good use and made into a impromptu device for making a rhythm or unusual sound – as common everyday objects such as a pair of drawers and household junk.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, Adriatic and the middle East, and individual influences, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

Changing tact so to speak, following the first two and ahead of a fourth re-issue (a second volume of Jon Hassell’s pioneering Fourth World ambient evocations is to be released just a few weeks after Širom’s LP), I Can Be A Clay Snapper is the first tak:til imprint to meander into south central Europe. And what an impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail it is too; different from the previous two releases, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit; whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



REVIEWS/PREVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Not that I ever mean to do it, but this month’s roundup does have a tenuous theme of sorts, or rather many of the releases in this, the 52nd edition of my eclectic revues, are more or less all experimenting with the electronic music format in one way or another. The sagacious counterculture totem and beatnik poet of renown, John Sinclair leads the charge this month, his vivid jazz lyricism recitations put to an evocative soundtrack by Youth on the mini-album Beatnik Youth Ambient. Jono Podmore’s recently re-launched label, Psychomat, follows up on the inaugural release with another electronic peregrination – this time far more melodic and dreamy –, from the mysterious Reason Stendec. Working in isolation and apart, never meeting in person, the Room Of Wires duo release their third EP of otherworldly and atmospheric techno and downtempo beats, Black Medicine. And an assortment of artists from the ambient, trance, electronica fields contribute towards the One String Inspiration project, highlighting and collecting money for the Syria Relief charity effort.

We also have the latest and it seems final album of outsider New York slacker pathos from Charles Griffin Gilson, otherwise known as CHUCK. Calling it quits on his alter ego, due to a multitude of reasons, Gilson records his sincere CHUCK swan songs collection, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, for the Audio Antihero label.

Read on for full analysis and review…


John Sinclair  ‘Beatnik Youth Ambient’
Ironman Records,  28th July 2017


Synonymous for steering and kicking out the jams in his short role as manager of Detroit’s renowned rebel rousing motherfuckers The MC5, renegade poet, scholar, activist and establishment rattler John Sinclair is also remembered for his free radical zeal and dalliances with the law.

Even too hardcore for the MC5, Sinclair’s foundation of the anti-racist socialist White Panthers, and his countless associations with equally revolutionary counterculture players and shakers, marked him out; leading as it did to the now infamous drug bust for marijuana possession in 1969. Whilst his love for the herb and gesticulations, whether through poetry or diatribes, is in no doubt, the way this particular bust was set-up (for what was a very insignificant amount of drugs) is considered heavy-handed and unjustifiable. Handed an initial ten-year sentence, Sinclair’s status in the “heads” and political agitators communities had singled him out as a poster child for deterring the like-minded boomer generation from stepping out of line. Fortunately (to a degree) this sentence and media furor galvanized support and sympathy and reduced that ten-year stretch to two, with Sinclair emerging from jail in 1971.

Keeping his hand in so to speak, but taking up residency in Amsterdam – a much safer bet -, the beatnik jazz sage continued, and as you can hear on this latest recording, continues, to record and perform in a host of setups with a multitude of contributors and backing bands.

 

The appropriately (in every sense) entitled Beatnik Youth Ambient mini LP is a foretaste, and as the title implies, ambient treatment version of material from a full-length album, due to be released later on in September. The “Youth” of that title refers of course to the Killing Joke bassist turn in-demand producer Martin Glover. Arguably one of the most consistent producers over the last few decades in the UK, Glover, under his Youth alter ego, has taken on more or less most forms of music and worked on both commercial and underground experimental projects. But he’s perhaps better known for pushing the boundaries of dub through his own productions and with a number of other artists; notably setting up the WAU! Mr. Modo imprint with fellow Orb band member Alex Paterson in 1989.

He now provides Sinclair’s “literary synthesis” with a suitable “beatnik ambient” soundtrack: a serialism quartet of turmoil, turbulent jazz and dreamier trance.

Split into two sides, Sinclair’s sagacious burr recitations are left to flow with only an occasional echo, reverb or metallic ominous effect added for atmosphere or to reinforce the sentiment and hallucinatory philosophy. The opening history lesson, Do It, which enthuses this generation to once again upend the status quo, turns Sinclair’s cerebral lyricism into a quasi-dance track rallying cry: the lingering reflective melodic and amorphous synth chorus in the first half of the track gradually joined by an Orb-like cloud-bursting trance beat.

Running through a vivid purview of postwar counterculture, bringing to life the energy and excitement that writers such as Kerouac (who gets referenced a lot) captured when seeing the Bebop jazz revolution and its great proponents perform, Sinclair delivers a magical enthusiastic experience on the next peregrination and nod to Thelonious Monk’s 1957 LP of the same name, Brilliant Corners. Titans of American beatnik and psychedelic literature lineup, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (“…had the ability to park a car anywhere”, just one of his talents alongside his status as the “human bridge between the 50s and 60s.”), rubbing shoulders with jazz music’s new guard Lester Young, Byrd and Gillespie; immortalized by Sinclair to “head music” cosmos of jazzy lamenting woe, ghostly squawking and hooting saxophone and swirling mirages.

The greatest “head trip” however is saved until last. Sinclair channeling Captain Beefheart delivering the most “high” meandering TED talk ever, translates, or rather makes a reification of the almost impossible to articulate spark and feelings that kick started the whole boomer generation of beatniks, on the spiritual jazz voyage Sitarrtha. Sitars shimmer, an electric guitar twists and contorts, snares are played in a military, misty revolutionary reveille style, and the saxophone battles on as Sinclair implores us to grasp his message: a return to the real.

A eulogy of a sort, certainly homage, fellow renegade and jailbird, the late convivial Welsh sage Howard Marks reads out a befitting War On Drugs. Part epistle, part rambling thoughts, Marks, the cosmic prophet, weaves between the nonsensical and profound, the intimate and enraged. An obvious candidate and fellow drug evangelist, Marks makes a welcome addition to Sinclair’s congregation.

 

If anything, Beatnik Youth Ambient leaves the listener pining for a lost age; Sinclair’s evocative prose and delivery lifted (and cradled at times) by Youth’s congruous seething tensions and floaty dream-like production, which enthrall me to once again get stuck in to the “beat generation” and spin those Savoy label jazz totem recordings again. A prompt for the present times, the zeal of the postwar “baby boomers” (those with a soul anyway) counterculture not necessarily translating to generations X, Y and Z, even if it is needed; Sinclair’s language is nevertheless just as powerfully descriptive and energizing now as it was over forty years ago.




Reason Stendec  ‘Impulsion EP’
Psychomat,  17th July 2017


 

Wingman to Can’s Irmin Schmidt and the late Jaki Liebezeit, on both a myriad of band legacy projects and various collaborations over the years; solo electronic music composer, and professor to boot; and in the last few years, part of the analogue manifesto enthused trio, Metamono; Jono Podmore has just recently, in the last two months, after a twenty year hiatus, re-launched his 90s Psychomat record label. The aim being to release, in both physical and digital formats, a cerebral experimental run of electronic music 7”s.

 

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail in June the inaugural extemporized Podmore & Swantje Lichtenstein partnership of serialism amorphous avant-garde backing and exploratory spoken word, Miss Slipper/Lewes, and subsequent series of remixes that followed, laid down the foundations and signature ascetics of the label. Record number two, Reason Stendec’s Impulsion EP, congruously keeps up the momentum: just as shrouded in mystery; every bit as challenging, but this time around for more melodic and flowing, and on Podmore’s (under his Kumo persona) remix treatment transforms the original material into a bubbling Roland TRs acid techno (reminiscent of Waveform Transmission era Jeff Mills and Derrick Carter) thumper.

 

An interesting story lies behind that Reason Stendec moniker, which helps to reinforce a sense of mystique. “Stendec” was the last, and as it turned out confounding, word of a Morse code message sent by the crew of the doomed Lancastrian flight between Buenos Aires and Santiago on August 2nd 1947. Turning into a conspirator dream factory of ever outlandish, convoluted theories, including the obligatory alien abduction angle, the Stendec saga had to wait 51 years to be finally laid to rest. It certainly had all the right components for a conspiracy or unworldly mystery, disappearing completely as it did, with no signs of wreckage, no bodies and the most cryptic of messages left to unscramble. But as it turned out the plane crashed, the impact as it hit one the looming mountain ranges triggered an avalanche that buried and entombed the plane and passengers for decades in an area known as the Tupungato glacier. As it thawed over those years, the plane was exposed and finally discovered by mountain climbers.

With this in mind, Reason Stendec cast a spell of otherworldliness; wafting along on a ghostly visage of Pan-European and Arabian sounding influences: like a breeze over an imaginary sand dune landscape, heightened by knife-sharpening percussion.

Like Grace Jones’ Parisian tango en vogue dalliances and contralto husky romantic burr crossed with a restrained Diamanda Galas, the vocals on this track follow the sonic contours; switching from an opening chant to English, French and German. A Vocal Mix version of the same track manipulates, pitch-shifts, bit-crushes, and refashions the voice into various forms: ominous and cybernetic, ritualistic and floating; one minute quivering towards the operatic, the next, in an incantation style.

A languid, lingering and sophisticated turn, the Impulsion EP is another electronica adventure and move in the right direction; both befitting the Psychomat label’s raison d’être yet cerebrally drifting off into more melodic, flowing directions.





CHUCK  ‘Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store’
Audio Antihero,  18th August 2017


Bowing out (or bailing out) on a high note with another signature collection of pathos rich idiosyncratic slacker anthems and plaints, Charles Griffin Gilson calls time on his alter ego CHUCK. Stating a number of reasons for this closure, including his recent marriage, hitting thirty and honestly feeling he just hasn’t got it in him anymore, Gilson releases his final swansong, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, on the perfect home for such a maverick artists, Audio Antihero.

A most generous offering it is too: fifteen observatory songs and instrumentals of wistful, often of a despondent, bent, with ruminations on diets, exercise, work, love, TV and animals – more in the metaphorical sense.

An outsider of a kind, originally upping sticks from his Massachusetts home to New York, Gilson’s CHUCK persona whimsically, though often stirringly sad, looks at the foibles of living in the metropolis. This is exemplified in the most direct way on the bubbly knockabout (tongue-in-cheek) tribute to New York and its citizens, New Yorker, which lists a number of postcard landmarks made (in)famous in song and reputation (from Rockaway Beach to Hipster Williamsburg), and the personal traits, such as their stereotype brash offensive manner, of many of its residents: “Get the hell outta my way/Now go and die.”

Though just as domineering theme wise is the ‘social media’ constraints and context of a wider world, encroaching upon (as much as deriving from) these New York musings. This can be heard on the millennial blues trysts Becky and Bodies, which both feature a number of references to our obsession for validation in the online world. The pains of never growing up, streaming lives through a never-ending feed of updates and memes, Gilson encapsulates in his slightly nasal lo fi emo meets Tom Petty, Jonathan Richman, Clouds and Daniel Johnston waking up late in a Williamsburg bedsit style of delivery the regrets and anxieties of a generation growing up in a society that’s never offline: one that conducts its love affairs over a smart phone.

 

There’s a real sadness to many of these relationship-themed laments; the modern travails of long-distance love in an ever-connected but alienating world, and as with the Dylan-esque flowing turn pizzicato Arcade Fire rousing Caroline, an almost resigned to fate, shrugged, relationship with the ill-suited cavalier subject of the title: “My friends say you’re wasting my time/Baby I don’t mind.”

Whether dreamily drifting along to tropical palm swaying alluded notes, lasers, synthesizer presets and fanned phaser effects, Gilson sings of both unrequited love, gaining and regaining love in a languorous candid manner: removed but betraying a real fragility and care for his characters.

And so we bid fond well to CHUCK, though whether that means a more grown-up post-millennial with commitments Gilson emerges in its wake remains to be seen and heard. I only know that it’s a real shame that he’s decided to call time on his creation. Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store is a fitting swansong.








Various Artists  ‘One String Inspirations’


 

So much has happened on the international stage since the April release date of this benefit for Syria album, yet the bitter catastrophic Syrian civil war still rages on unabated by talks and the erosion of ISIS in the country and bordering regions (especially more recently, Iraq). Now in its seventh year with no sign of ending anytime soon, the ensuing humanitarian tragedy throws more desperate Syrian refugees to the mercy of people smugglers and their cadre. Entangled with a never-ending flood of those escaping the devastation of this conflict and with those escaping poverty and violence from across a wide area of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the Mediterranean has, even this summer, seen huge numbers desperately making the crossing to Europe.

Statistics are staggering: the Syria Relief charity website, which all funds from this release go towards, refers to 6 million children inside the warzone currently needing urgent humanitarian assistance, alone. With this glaring travesty in mind, the 28-track One String Inspiration compilation offers a stirring collection of poetic (and not so poetic: see the bish bosh no-nonsense punk raging Hostile Skies by 3 Chords & A Lie) indictments and bleak instrumental soundtrack atmospheres. The premise of which, alluded to in some ways via the title, challenges each artist to feature either a found or self-made instrument in their composition. Not that any of the results sound restrictive, even if it means some artists have had to move outside their “comfort zones” in the process.

 

Most of the contributions could be classed in the ambient or experimental sound and mood categories: The opening tabla rattling, spinning travail Night Journey To The Coast by Bowmer Holmes setting the right scene of magical Middle Eastern promise and reflection. Serene veiled drones and obscured leviathan movements follow with the Melodic Energy Commission’s Hole In Timeless and the transmogrified Animal Waves, by Can, put through a wobbly switched-on Bach treatment Budget Airlines from Detlev Everling – which shows a certain sense of humor and offers a kooky respite from the moodier material.

Tribal futurism, ratchet-y workshop mechanics, Transglobal Underground laments and duck quacks abound until reaching the stark folksy plaintive lyricism of Anna Knight’s unapologetic indictment on the refugee crisis, With His Lifejacket. Following the fateful plight of one poor unfortunate child, drowned like so many others crossing the straits to Europe, Knight somberly mourns but also attacks the inhumanity and cruelty of it all.

Full-on warping drum’n’bass and techno (courtesy of the tetchy Kitchen Sink Drama by Glove Of Bones) at its most lively, tapping an object to produce a serial environmental accompaniment at its most minimalist, and whistling to a wood shavings itchy dub track at its most strange, One String Inspiration features a diverse and generous range of wonders; many of which evoke the Warp (early on in its creation), Leaf and First World labels.

 

A few months on and just as vital, the collection in its own small way keeps the crisis in the spotlight, as more and more artists do their bit and make sense of such chaos.






Room Of Wires  ‘Black Medicine’
Section 27

 

For a duo of sonic experimentalists that have never met – working apart in total isolation -, the Room Of Wires partnership, no matter how seething with ominous twists and turns, is a complimentary synchronized meeting of minds.

The rather anonymous, faceless downtempo and in industrial techno composers manipulate, churn and whip up a mysterious combination of futuristic atmospheres and inner turmoil on their third, most recent, EP Black Medicine.

Beginning as they mean to progress, the kinetic chain snaking opener Game Over builds gradually, weaving touches of Kraftwerk, Basic Channel and Mike Dred to a rhythmic soundscape of harmonious discord. Undulating spheres, radio waves, obscured broadcasted voices and stretching creaks and expanding steel structures move overhead on the following space journey Protected Space, whilst Temple Run juxtaposes lumbering bit-crushing monolith punctuations with a haunting Oriental siren chorus.

Unsettling and sonorous in places, yet able to lift the miasma and darkness with lightened breaks of more serene, glowing synth waves, Room Of Wires constantly offer glimmers of humanity and nature: even if the voices, transmissions sound lost and ebbing away like ghostly visages. A mouthful of Black Medicine that won’t do you any harm.





NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona



Tickling Our Fancy 047: Ah! Kosmos, Armellodie Records, La Mambanegra, Mokoomba, Omar Rahbany, Taos Humm, and Charles Vaughn.



Welcome to another edition of Dominic Valvona’s, most eclectic, review roundup of new releases. #47 includes a lively and sizzling revitalization of the Salsa music and dance style by Colombia’s La Mambanegra; an ambitious global-stamped passport of world music peregrinations, suites and songs from the Lebanese polymath Omar Rahbany; a Tonga ancestry soundtrack to love, loss and displacement from Zimbabwe’s breezy and playful lilting Mokoomba; the debut kaleidoscope misadventures of Taos Humm; a two-track EP of sophisticated electronic and cerebral synth pop from Ah! Kosmos, and psychogeography style ruminations on the omnipresence of pylons from Charles Vaughn. Plus, Glasgow’s Armellodie Records celebrate their tenth anniversary with a special celebratory showcase compilation of indie and quirky pop.

Omar  Rahbany   ‘Passport’
Released  10th  March  2017


 

Talk about ambitious. The grandiose debut, part Middle Eastern rhapsody, part global symphony, from the Lebanese musical polymath Omar Rahbany, boasts a cast of 180 musicians and performers, from twelve different nationalities; all pulling together to produce an hour-long lyrical odyssey.

Taking the Beirut-born Rahbany three years to finish, his well-stamped Passport is inspired by a whirlwind of ideas and mediums. Broadening his “total work of art” conceptions to include film and choreography, projecting a mix of evocative instrumentals and vocal suites across a wide-screen vista, his “borderless” experiments are sophisticated, multi-layered and sweeping; often amorphously dropping from the classical into jazz-fusion.

The action and the themes, however, are deeply rooted, growing from a city that’s seen thousands of years of turmoil. Beirut, and the Lebanon, has been both scarred and enriched by countless civilizations, and as a result, the city is a patchwork of languages and religions, all sharing a history no one can agree on, or as the press statement puts it, Lebanon is “a nation that undertakes a constant struggle to find its ‘absolute identity’.” Imbued with a rich heritage that goes back at least two generations – his grandfather, Mansour, and great uncle, Assi, wowed the country with their distinct innovative compositions as the Rahbany Brothers; and his father is a playwright composer/lyricist and mother a famed professional dancer – Omer Rahbany’s opus is unmistakably steeped in the psychogeography of his native land.

 

Passport begins with a heralded Overture suite, which glides majestically through trilling flutes, accordion, piano and softened timpani, interpreting seasons as it goes and gradually building to a tumultuous crescendo. The Kiev City Symphony, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko, adds a momentous grandeur of classicism and Bernstein to the Lebanese panorama. This full gamut of emotions score is followed by the heart aching Arabian lamented musical-esque, Umbrella Woman, which features the French Chanson like beautiful spiraling vocal performance of Ghada Nehme, and again, a grandiose orchestra accompaniment. Keeping a semblance of the sinfonietta, but also talking a cue from Amandia period Miles Davis, Rahbany and his extensive cast of players create an askewer avant-garde jazz, reggae and rock music soundtrack to the Biblical referenced vanity project, the tower of Babel, on the constantly evolving and changing Programmusik: Babel. A suitable cacophony is enacted to what was a legendary tower, built to reach the heavens and channel all communications under one universal language; TV and radio transmissions crackle alongside rocket bombardments and speeches to make the point.

Waltzes, rituals, the Tango, Byzantium, allusions to astral-travelling and spiritual peace are played on a mix of both traditional Western and Eastern instruments, including the bezok, rezok and oud. They articulate a wide spectrum of landscapes, from the deserts of North Africa to the reaches of outer space.

A soundtrack to an, as yet, unmade global spanning movie, Passport drifts from Lebanese theatre to jazz and the classical on what is an enthralling and ambitious whirlwind of a modern world music symphony.


https://soundcloud.com/omarrahbany/07-mouwachahat



La  Mambanegra  ‘El  Callegüeso  y  su  Mala  Maña’
Released  by  Movimientos  Records,  3rd  March  2017


 

Nothing short of reinventing Salsa, the “machine-drilled nine-piece orchestra” from Colombia, La Mambanegra, promises an indecorous rebirth of the liveliest of Latin America’s music and dance styles. Injecting street smarts and a venomous dose of sass to a genre that has lost its luster in recent times, Jacobo Velez in his role as bandleader takes liberal pinches of inspiration from Salsa’s most vibrant and dynamic old guard and adds a eclectic mix of Nuyorican funk, soul, hip-hop and ragamuffin.

Translating as “The Black Mamba”, the La Mambanegra name and concept is embellished with Colombian mysticism and legend, loosely based on fact and fiction. Charting the story of an anonymous “hero” from the Barrio Obrero neighborhood in Cali (Colombia’s third largest city) and his “fantastic” adventures via La Habana, as he makes a journey to New York. Inspired by Velez’s own great grandfather, the musician Thomas Renteria (known to many as El Callegüeso Antigua), and his misadventures on a perilous voyage to the “Big Apple”, El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña celebrates as much as it focuses on Colombia’s tumultuous history; from the country’s own internal flight of people from the worst-hit areas of fighting between the government and FARC forces (though negotiations for an end to this fifty-year conflict are reaching, what looks like, a peaceful resolution), to cities such as Cali, and the migration to more stable states across the region and further afield, especially to the already mentioned New York. Renteria escaped drowning, thrown overboard on his intrepid voyage. Thankfully he made land; washed-up and stranded in Cuba, his stay proved to have been a productive one as he soon made friends with the famed Chano Pozo, who gave him, as legend has it, a “magical flute” from Africa. This infamous flute made that eventual journey to the USA, and was passed on to Velez, who uses it now as the source of his band name.

 

Migrating protagonists and snake spirited flutes aside, Velez and his troupe’s self-styled “break Salsa” transformation shoves Salsa towards its original revolutionary and communal dynamism. Sizzling with a wealth of Colombian talent, the La Mambanegra hub expands its ranks to include guest spots from Latin America’s finest. Dutch trumpeter, and Colombian-resident, Maite Hantele appears with the Colombian percussionist Denilson Ibargüen on the sultry, brightened horns, Fania-style trip to Africa via Miami opener, Pure Potenkem, and jazz great, Eddy Martinez can be heard on the more lilting, serenaded, lyrical tongue-twisting, Contare Para Vos. They sweep, but mostly saunter, through a grandiose mix of Kid Frost meet DJ Muggs Latino funking rap (La Compostura and Barrio Caliente, which features a lingering candour of The Pazant Brothers A Gritty Nitty); Albert Ayler jamming with Lalo Schifrin to create a Havana-style Salsa and jazz hybrid (Me Parece Perfecto); and Henri-Pierre Noel Haitian disco converges with South American cabaret (La Kokinbomba).

La Mambanegra’s uncoiled snake spirit spits out a fiery fusion, straddling the old and new guards and adding some 21st century grunt and excitement to a Salsa rebirth. One of many great groups from Colombia enlivened and confident of their vigorous cross-border influences, this multi-limbed orchestra steps up with an invigorated Latin celebration and revival.






Mokoomba  ‘Luyando’
Released  by  Outhere  Records,  March  10th  2017




The next stop on our global music review is Zimbabwe; home to the energetic Mokoomba. Imbued by the awe-inspiring, life-giving forces of the Victoria Falls and Zambezi River scenery that nurtures the region, the group pay homage, not just with their name, which translates and encapsulates a “deep respect for the river”, but in their lyrics too. Most notably on the opening pan-flute lilting, nylon-string plucked guitar swooning Mokole, which literally translates as “water” in the Ndebele tongue, and pays tribute to the beauty and importance of those impressive and immensely powerful Falls.

Though they use a mix of languages on their latest, self-produced, album Luyando, it is the ethnicity of the Tonga that proves to be the integral ingredient to the Mokoomba sound and subject matters. One of Zimbabwe and the neighboring Zambia’s smallest ethnic groups, the Tonga’s ancestry goes back an age, yet in the second half of the twentieth century they were unceremoniously uprooted from their homes to make way for the Kariba dam. No repatriations were ever made, and fifty odd years later, many are still waiting to be connected to electricity. Their plight forms the backbone of the atavistic meets organically building, call and response, breakbeat Kambowa track. An articulation of pain, loss and longing, this traditional drum and group vocal performance begins as a glimpse into history but soon grows rhythmically, hurtling down the railway track towards a joyful funk.

The balance between tradition and the contemporary continues throughout the album. Growing up in the Chinotimba Township, the group learnt to blend their roots with the rhythms of Zimrock, soukous, ska and salsa. Moving closer towards those roots, Mokoomba have changed direction slightly from their debut in 2012, Rising Tide, which was a more switched-on rocking affair. Luyando is in comparison, more raw and stripped; a mostly acoustic performance that leans towards the local sounds of the region on what the bio declares, “is a quest for the wisdom of tradition and history as well as insight and solace amid contemporary crisis.”

Of course, no conversation, commentary and review on Zimbabwe can continue for long without mentioning the omnipresent Mugabe. Completely impervious to his own people and the neighboring borders and greater international communities; splitting his fiefdom into fierce rivalries whilst the country grinds to a slow collapse, Robert Mugabe has unsurprisingly few admirers within the arts and music world. Yet far from rattling the rafters and bawling in protest, Makoomba meander peaceably through their Tonga heritage, making a connection with the rituals and ceremonies that shaped them: looking back to go forward in a sense. The title track for instance, “mother’s love”, alludes to the Makishi masquerade and joyous graduation ceremony called Chilende; an initiation for boys between the ages of eight and twelve, who leave their village homes and live for one to three months at a bush camp. The song itself is a soothing sweet paean, punctuated by various hooting, animal-like, noises. And the moving, dusty earthy soulful Kumukanda is built around another Tonga initiation ceremony, on the band experienced in their teens.

Raw and emotional raspy; plucking and picking; shuffling and winding; Mokoomba channel their ancestral roots through an often lulled and playful, though at times more intense, spiritually harmonious blend of local and cross border rhythms. The voice of protest and the quest to find an answer to all the turmoil has seldom sounded so breezy and sweetened.





Taos  Humm  ‘Flute  Of  The  Noodle  Bender’
Released  by  Stolen  Body  Records/ Howling  Owl  Records,  17th  March  2017


 

The burgeoning Bristol label, Stolen Body Records, has carved a certain niche for itself delivering some of the best garage band and psychedelic releases of late; somehow squeezing something fresh and inventive out of genres that, lets face it, have been flogged to death.

Among their rich roster, and a constant surprise, is the Isle of Wight émigré abound in Bristol, Edward Penfold, whose debut languid beyond-the-calico-wall psychedelic solo LP, Caulkhead, made our choice albums of 2016. Another year, another set-up and this time a congruous shared release with Howling Owl Records sees Penfold joined by fellow psych initiates Joe Paradisos and Matt Robbins, under the Taos Humm banner.

The trio’s debut, Flute Of The Noodle Bender, might imply some kind of allusion to psychedelia’s golden age, but there’s more of a post-punk, cacophonous feel to this twisted kaleidoscope of haunted somnolence and erratic, jerking, razor-cutting guitar hysteria: and indeed noodling. Though vocally – when there are lyrics, narration and voiced utterances to be found – the reverberations of Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and gramophone, calling from a bygone bucolic age, Tiny Tim permeate Taos Humm sound musically like a lax clash of Postcard Record label releases from the early 80s – on the discordant strangulated guitar vortex Hi Hats Are For Post Punk Heroes – and a Galapagos islands Fiery Furnaces – on the alternating attack/ sustain amorphous Velociraptortoise.

 

Despite the spikiness, intense tremolo quivers and the tortuous Gothic schlock horror screaming and screeching guitar mooning of BB, there’s a semblance of melting psychedelia, shoegaze and pondering post-rock lingering in between the erraticism and urgency. This kool-aid inebriated state can be heard on the wafting, mirage melodious Meek, and the lulling South Seas peregrination Tapestar, which has the group perform a suitable drifting, lush, instrumental and hushed cooing workout over the top of a recorded loop, played off what sounds like (as the title would imply) a tape recorder, from John Barry’s You Only Live Twice soundtrack.

Flute Of The Noodle Bender is full of ideas, both maniacal and languorously vague. Psychedelia, lo fi, shoegaze, post this past that all merge into a mix of wig out adventures and off-kilter velocity that’s way beyond the imaginations of most bands.









Various  Artists  ‘Armellodie  Is  10’
Released  by  Armellodie  Records,  10th  March  2017


 

Self-deprecating. Mocking their status as a relatively obscure record label – as demonstrated by the cover art, which features a blasé Daft Punk, as though beamed down from another planet, loftily show their ignorance to a Glaswegian record shop assistant – the thankless task duo behind Glasgow’s Armellodie Records, Al Nero and Scott Maple, celebrate their tenth anniversary.

A beacon for countless mavericks and eccentrics, Armellodie has – despite alluding universal recognition from silly robotic-helmeted French electronic music stars – released a steady flow of exciting, interesting and melodically diaphanous indie and quirky pop records over the last ten years. Encapsulating, what is and has been, a varied roster Armellodie Is 10 documents the label’s output; picking out twenty tracks.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail a while back, the collection’s opening artist, the idiosyncratic Yip Man, offers an skewered rhythmic gait version of Squeeze on the inventive pop ditty Barnburner. Also previously receiving our seal of approval, the lush anthemic indie stargazers, The Hazey Janes, are represented by their magnificent Manics-esque emotional rollercoaster The Fathom Line.

Elsewhere, Appletop make US college radio alt-rock sound somehow inimitably Scottish on Burning Land; the rambunctious Super Adventure Club turn in a distressed math rock stormer with Pick Up Sticks; and Conor Mason hands-in the lingering, charming country pick-up Words.

Immensely proud of their roots, referencing through band names and song titles Scotland’s tumultuous but proud history: For instance, The Scottish Enlightenment, which proves to be a great band moniker. However, The Douglas Firs (another cracking name), with all the sincerity in the world, pay a sort of homage to that cult favorite, Highlander – we’ll forget about the loose historical inaccuracies, it is a fantasy after all. The Quickening, which proves to be a folky peregrination around the campfires – pondering between sweetness and ambient experimentation –, takes its title from the, shoddy and usually over-egged pyrotechnic blast onscreen, duel to the death by decapitation of the film and TV franchises’ “immortals”. The song itself sounds serious enough and quite beautiful.

 

Not that any validation is needed, Armellodie Is 10 is a most brilliant showcase and anniversary celebration from a label that has remained constant. This is a label that thoroughly deserves championing. Here’s to the next anniversary in 2027.






Ah! Kosmos  ‘Together  We  Collide’




Featured for the first time on the Monolith Cocktail in 2013, the Istanbul-born sound designer and electronic music composer Basak Günak was just starting out on a fruitful career, releasing the alien subterranean debut EP, Flesh. Under the cosmological guise of Ah! Kosmos, Günak has, we’re happy to say, gone on to reach international acclaim.

Relocating to Berlin a while back, Günak has composed numerous sound-art pieces and soundtracks for installations, site-specific work, short films and plays, and has also garnered favorable reviews for her experimental electronic and dance music performances. Her latest release, Together We Collide, is a two-track EP; the first track of which, From The Land Below, features the rich polygenesis soulful vocals of Warp label signed artist LAFAWNDAH. Clattering-stick percussion, taut delay, nuanced swaddling horns and a number of synchronized rhythms, both Techno and futuristic jazz leaning, form a sophisticated soundtrack for the undulating vocals. Moody in the manner of Massive Attack, this mythological, spiritual trip starts to click after repeated plays, and sounds more and more melodies each time.

Keeping From The Land Below company is the Tricky-swooning-to-the-moon-above-Eastern-skies, winding and pondering, Silent Safe. Awaiting the listener is a wilderness with symbolic spellbinding ritual yearning, cooing lyricism and tribal trip-hop beats, verging on leftfield synth pop.

Highly sophisticated, nuanced and dare say, cerebral, Günak continues to produce a deep thoughtful mix of electronic and melodic poetics, this latest EP another brilliant example of her growing reputation as an inventive composer and artist.




Charles  Vaughan  ‘Pylon  Reveries’
Released  by  Wayside  &  Woodland  Recordings,  24th  March  2017


 

Despite being vividly warned-off, like many of us kids in the 1980s, exposed to TV public health and warning announcements films from playing anywhere near pylons (for obvious reasons). Charles Vaughan is fascinated with these metal leviathans. Collected from a decade’s worth of filled-up hard drives and miscellaneous tapes, his fourth soundscape come psychogeography soundtrack is suffused with the pylons constant throbbing and charged omnipresence.

Attempting in a conceptual sonic manner to escape the overburdened mind, plugged into the overbearing data avalanche of an increasing impossible to break free from technologically connected world, Vaughan shows that even in the middle of an isolated field/meadow it’s near impossible to find a sense of disconnection: the hum, pulse and crackle of technology always close at hand; symbolized by the proliferation of pylons, straddling the landscape.

Handled with subtlety, the fizzled droning undulations of these looming “sentinels” move slowly and sonorously; often in trepidation and constantly unsettling. From shorter, passing vignettes and ruminations to longer, drawn-out ambient pieces, Pylon Reveries fluctuates between Ambient Works era Aphex Twin and Kosmische pioneer Asmus Tietchens, and on the transmogrified harpsichord-like arpeggiator, neo-classical, Revery, Thomas Dinger and Hans-Joachim Roedelius.

There’s a certain wonder and reflection on these “totems”, but also a sense of nostalgia too, one borne out of an interest for the type of dystopia themed TV shows of the late 70s and 80s. Vaughan after all takes his name from a character in the British lo fi drama, Survivors; the synopsis of which has a virus wipe out 98% (very specific!) of the world’s population. Vaughan emerges in the aftermath of this catastrophe with a band of “survivors” to a desolate wilderness. Tasked with collecting information and exploring he hopes to rebuild society from the ground up. Here he is then, reimagined, documenting and creating a reification of the infrastructure that encroaches upon the land and our lives: Is technology freeing us or slowly binding us to a new reliance?

 

Increasingly uncomfortable with the fears of an ever-connected society, one that is moving towards a fully integrated technology, Vaughan has a myriad of feelings and meditations to represent through sound, but it is an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty, which dominates and prevails.





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